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Five Chinese Super League players Premier League clubs should be looking at

January 11, 2017 in News & Features

While it may not yet be able to compete with Europe’s elite in most aspects, the Chinese Super League has still become an attractive destination for players across the world seeking a fresh challenge – and a hefty pay packet.

President Xi Jinping’s 10-year plan to make the country a footballing superpower has resulted in CSL teams being bankrolled by massive corporate investment to make the great sporting leap forward.

This January alone, the likes of Brazilian international Oscar, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez and Belgian star Axel Witsel, have moved to Chinese clubs Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Quanjian in deals worth insane amounts of money in transfer fees and wages.

Former Chelsea player Oscar earned his £52m move to Shanghai SIPG after impressing in the Premier League, as did other recent additions to the CSL such as John Obi Mikel, Graziano Pelle and Demba Ba.

But to turn the tables – here are five CSL players who Premier League clubs might want to consider bringing over to England in the current transfer window.

Jackson Martinez: target for West Ham?

Last summer, West Ham’s pursuit of a striker in the “£30m” and upwards bracket was well-documented after they failed in their attempts to recruit Michy Batshuayi – who later signed for London rivals Chelsea – and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.

The Hammers eventually managed to land Simone Zaza from Juventus in a loan deal that would become permanent after the Italian had made a certain amount of appearances, but the 25-year-old utterly failed to adapt to life in the Premier League, and is now set to return to Juventus before he is offloaded to another club.

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©Jack Martinez’s official Twitter account

Their next target was former Hammer Jermain Defoe, but given his huge importance in their bid to avoid relegation, Sunderland have rejected the east London club’s £6m offer and made it clear they have no intention of selling.

Manager Slaven Bilic is now likely to look elsewhere, and having so far this season paid the price for his failure to recruit a decent striker last summer,  Guangzhou Evergrande’s Jackson Martinez would be well worth a look.

Martinez moved to China last January after a short and unsuccessful stint at Atletico Madrid, where he only managed to score two goals in 15 La Liga appearances. However, the 30-year-old Colombian’s prolific goalscoring record for Porto, which saw him finish as the Primeira Liga’s top-scorer in all three of his seasons in Portugal, proves how good he can be.

He can also boast Champions League experience and 10 goals in 40 appearances for his country, including appearances at both the Copa America and World Cup.

Whether Guangzhou would be willing to let him go remains to be seen, but he is the type of player many West Ham supporters would have hoped to see come in last summer to build on a successful final season at Upton Park before the move to the London Stadium.

Ezequiel Lavezzi: target for Everton?

©Wikimedia Commons

Everton appear to be in the market for a new winger, and Hebei China Fortune’s Ezequiel Lavezzi would be a superb option.

At 31, the Argentina international probably has a couple of good seasons left in him and remains a big name.

With Yannick Bolasie sidelined for a year and Gerard Deulofeu set to leave the Merseyside club on loan, manager Ronald Koeman is looking to add to that area of the squad, having already snapped up 19-year-old Ademola Lookman from Charlton for £11m.

“I know what we need to change and if everyone opens their eyes today maybe we will get further on our improvement as a team. Because that’s really what we need and that’s all about what happens this month,” Koeman told the Liverpool Echo regarding the club’s lack of transfer activity.

Manchester United’s Memphis Depay is rumoured to be Koeman’s top target; however, it is believed that the Red Devils will only consider letting the 22-year-old leave on a permanent deal, while Everton are reportedly insisting on a loan – so if Koeman cannot get his number one choice, Lavezzi could serve as an excellent alternative.

Like Depay, former PSG and Napoli star Lavezzi’s preference is to operate on the left-hand side where he can cut in and cause damage with his right foot. But he is just as capable of playing on the left or behind the striker, making him both a skilful and versatile asset.

A proven top-level success in Europe, he could be just the spark a club like Everton need to give propel themselves upwards.

Graziano Pelle: target for Watford?

©Graziano Pelle’s official Twitter account

Graziano Pelle and Watford could potentially be a match made in heaven.

With strikers Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo having failed to reproduce last term’s form this season, the Hornets are in serious need of reinforcements up front, ailing to reproduce the goalscoring from they showed during the 2015/16 campaign, the Hornets could really do with some fresh impetus up front.

Given his aerial threat and impressive hold-up play, the former Southampton striker could fit the bill ideally.

Watford boss Walter Mazzarri likes to deploy Watford in a 3-5-2 formation, a set-up Pelle excelled in for Italy at Euro 2016, playing under current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.

The Shandong Luneng forward netted twice against Belgium and Spain to add to the 14 goals he scored in all competitions for Southampton that season before his move to China. At 31, Pelle could still have a couple of years of top-flight football in him.

Paulinho: target for West Brom?

©Wikimedia Commons

West Brom manager Tony Pulis is looking for a central midfielder and has already had a £13m bid for Morgan Schneiderlin rejected by Manchester United. 

Earlier this month, Pulis told the Birmingham Mail: “Morgan is just one of two or three we’re looking at.

“The most important thing is that you do your business with other clubs. It’s respectful to other clubs and then you move on from there. If we get the deals done, you get them done.”

The Red Devils want to recoup the £24m they paid Southampton for Schneiderlin in 2015, whilst the player’s preference to be reunited with his former Saints boss Ronald Koeman at Everton suggests he is out of the Baggies’ reach.

In that case, a decent alternative option might be Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulinho. 

The 28-year-old Brazilian international did not have the best of times during his previous stint in England with Tottenham, but has all the right attributes to fit into a Pulis team. 

His strength, energy, defensive capabilities and physical presence in set-piece situations, makes him an ideal alternative to Schneiderlin and, ultimately, a good midfield option for West Brom to have.

Currently eighth in the table, he could be just the man to push them on for a Europa League spot.

Papiss Cisse: target for Hull City?

Barring miracles, Hull look destined for the drop this season.

©Wikimedia Commons

New boss Marcos Silva has spoken of the need to strengthen his squad if he is to save them, and one area he will have to address is their attacking options.

“I have confidence in our players, but it’s clear we need to improve our roster,” Silva said in his unveiling as Hull manager and as quoted on BBC Sport.

Joint lowest scorers in the Premier League so far this season, with just 17 goals in 20 games, Hull need a proven Premier League forward, and Senegal international Papiss Cisse is just that.

The 31-year-old made an instant impact in English football’s top flight when he joined Newcastle from Bundesliga outfit Freiburg in January 2012, scoring 13 goals in 14 league appearances that season – including an incredible strike against Chelsea – but struggled to follow up that dazzling debut. 

Since last summer, Cisse has been playing for Shandong Luneng. Anything would be an improvement on Hull’s current striking options, so the main issue could be if the player wants to join a relegation fight.

British champion Langford eyes world glory in 2017

December 29, 2016 in Interviews

It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.

A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.

The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.

When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.

Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.

Business

“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.

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Langford took his record to 18-0 against Sam Sheedy. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.

“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.

“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.

“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.

“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.

“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.

“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”

Control

Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.

“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.

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Southpaw Sheedy stepped up to fight Langford after Chris Eubank Jr withdrew in September

“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.

“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”

Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.

“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.

“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.

“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.

“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.

“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”

Outburst

For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.

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The ‘Baggies Bomber’ now has three belts to his name. Pic tommylangford.co.uk

There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.

So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?

“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.

“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.

“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.

“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.

“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”

Impact

Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.

“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”

“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.

 

“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.

“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.

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Langford appears on BT Sport ahead of West Brom’s home game with Man Utd. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.

“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.

“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.

“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”

Fan base

Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.

With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.

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Birmingham-based Langford enjoys strong ties with his boyhood club. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.

“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.

“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.

“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”

“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.

“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.

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A fight at the Hawthorns would be a dream for Langford and his fans. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.

“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”

Challenges

Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?

With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.

But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.

“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”

Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.

“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.

“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.

“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.

“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”

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